Peace Corps Perú: Airing the Dirty Laundry

When you read my blog, and learn about my experiences, you are only getting a small glimpse of Perú. My experience here in Caraz, Áncash is not universal to all of Perú, just like my experience living in Pennsylvania cannot define what it is like to live anywhere in the United States. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we each have our own reality, our own experiences, and for me, Perú will be what I experience in Caraz, in Áncash. My Peace Corps experience, therefore, will be different and unique from that of every other Peace Corps Perú Volunteer. To highlight a little of this diversity of Peace Corps sites and the diversity of Perú, I have decided in this blog to highlight a mundane task, something we probably take for granted in the U.S.; doing the laundry.

Washing ones clothes is a nearly universal activity. Most everyone has clothes, most everyone eventually gets them dirty (especially Peace Corps Volunteers), and most everyone then has the need to get them clean again. So in today’s post, we are going to take a brief look at 4 different Peace Corps Perú Laundry situation, starting with my own.

Volunteer: Mark Goldy-Brown

Program: Community Based Environmental Management

Site: Yuracoto, Caraz, Áncash

My site is very dusty, and so I find that I am constantly in need of washing my clothes. However, the frequency of washing varies, usually depending on when I find a free 2 hours to dedicate myself to the task. Right now, I would say I wash my clothes every 3-4 weeks, sometimes longer, sometimes less.

Personally, I enjoy my clothes washing set-up. We have  a large cement sink, where I can easily pile all my clothes, and soak them for 30 minutes in nice cold water + detergent. After they soak, I grab each piece of clothing and rub them vigorously to remove dirt and to build up some suds. Because of all of the dust, my socks are usually a nice shade of brown and so I have to rub them with a bar of soap to get them nice and bright. (Sometimes if I’m in a hurry, I skip the soap and just let them stay a little brown. They’re socks after all, who is going to see them?).

After the rub down, next comes the cold rinse. I usually rinse each item furiously, wring it out thoroughly (I’m going to have great forearms at the end of service), and then smell it too see if all of the detergent has been removed.

Once rinsed, I pile all of my clothes in a large bin and hang them up on our clothes line. Since my site is sunny and hot most days, generally my clothes are nice and dry within 2-3 hours.

While at first I wasn’t a big fan of washing my clothes by-hand, I now rather enjoy the process; it is quite relaxing and gives me time to listen to music or a good podcast.

Volunteer: Emily Clark

Program: Community Economic Development

Site: Eten, Lambayeque

Emily lives on the beach, so it is even hotter there than in my site in Áncash. Here is a brief story from her about her first experience washing clothes in site.

“On the 3rd floor of my house the first time I washed clothes I got a ridiculous sunburn, like lobster style. I have a huge red balde/Tina that I filled up with water and not nearly enough detergent and threw everything in, with my music playing to make the task a bit better and bearable. Sloshed everything around and wrung out what I could after rinsing and threw it up on the clothes line. Two hours later I had finished with sore wrists from wringing stuff out. Definitely didn’t wash out all the soap nor have I since – some clothes will not last long I can tell. I caved when my room got a case of fleas and took everything to Chiclayo to the laundromat.”

So for Emily, she also manages with hand-washing, but has the opportunity to use a laundromat or her aunt’s washing machine from time to time. Coming from a sierra site, for me, water is quite abundant. However, living on the coast, there is often a shortage of water, and so many families have tanks such as the one in the picture above which serves as a water storage, generally for bathing. My host family during training also had one of these water containers which usually held the water to be used during showers, and every so often, a truck would come to refill it. Emily tells me that from time to time she and other Volunteers in Lambayeque take advantage of the abundant laundromats to get their clothes nice and clean.

To hear more about Emily’s Peace Corps experience, check out her blog:

Volunteer: Brooklyn Adelman

Program: Community Economic Development

Site: Contumazá, Cajamarca

Brooklyn is a Volunteer working in the Department of Cajamarca, which is another mountainous Sierra site like Áncash, but further north. Her clothes washing set-up is quite similar to my own; she’s got a cement sink to hand-wash her clothes & a wire clothesline to let them air dry.

Brooklyn’s set up is fairly typical of many homes in the sierra, but another common practice is taking the laundry down to the river or the water canal to clean it out. I have seen countless mothers in Áncash who bring a bucket of laundry to the water canal, where they slowly go through the motions of cleaning and washing, bit by bit.

To learn more about Brooklyn and her Peace Corps experience, check out her fantastic blog at:

So there you have it; 3 Volunteers and 3 slightly different realities for cleaning the dirty laundry here in Perú.

When reading my blog, and really when reading any Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog, it is important to remember that you are only seeing 1 person’s perspective, and that 1 perspective cannot capture the diversity of an entire country. As people, I feel like we have the tendency to make generalizations, maybe because they are easy to make or maybe because they seem to make the world simpler, easier to understand. But, we can’t let ourselves fall into that trap. Besides, how boring would the world be if an entire country could be summarized into a few loose generalizations. Serving in the Peace Corps has only reinforced my belief in the importance of learning about, embracing, discussing, and celebrating diversity in order to achieve a better future.

I hope you enjoyed a brief insight to the mundane tasks of Peace Corps Perú Volunteers, and that perhaps you gained a little insight into the diversity of experiences we have in our country of service.

Until next time (aka tomorrow),


P.S. I would like to wish a very Happy Birthday to the best mother in the world!